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Inside Track: Mad man finds calling
Co-founder of LEAD Marketing Agency originally went to college for journalism.
“Two stupid to see what’s in front of us, but really two wise to never stop.”
That is how Matt Tiedgen describes his decision to become the co-founder of LEAD Marketing Agency with Tom Sullivan in the midst of the economic turmoil in 2008. The use of “two,” Tiedgen said, is intentional.
Although bankruptcy was a prevalent theme throughout 2008 and into 2009, Tiedgen was not concerned by the uncertainty of his business’ success.
Tiedgen spent his professional career working for advertising agencies, and throughout his time, he gathered clients who trusted his work. As a result, many of those clients continued to conduct business with him as he transitioned into opening LEAD Marketing with Sullivan.
Now, 10 years later, LEAD Marketing, 2311 East Beltline Ave. SE in Grand Rapids, has become a full-service agency, where it develops strategic methods that meet its clients’ vision, creates and designs the message to fit each media platform and eventually buys media spots specific to each client’s advertisement.
Last year, Tiedgen helped to lead the company through another milestone when it acquired Wynott Advertising & Design Agency, which was located in Grand Rapids.
Tiedgen grew up in Ann Arbor but spent his formative years living in Williamston where he graduated from Williamston High School. His graduating class had 106 students, and Tiedgen graduated 33rd in his class with a 3.70 GPA.
Tiedgen recalled Williamston being a small town, which is still the case today. According to the last U.S. census taken in 2010, the town had a population of fewer than 4,000 people.
“I chose Indiana University because I wanted to get away,” Tiedgen said. “I also wanted to go there because it was a good journalism school and I loved to write.”
But he changed his career course when an executive from Young & Rubicam visited a communication class he was taking to speak about advertising.
“He said, ‘Yesterday, I left the office saying what the hell just happened? Today, I came in wanting more,’ and I thought that was a really cool way of describing the industry,” Tiedgen said. “But what eventually knocked me out of (journalism) is I didn’t like people constantly editing what I wrote. When an article finally went to publication, it is like, ‘Hmmm, I didn’t really say that.’
“So, as I was looking at classes, advertising classes were offered in the School of Journalism, and I started shifting that way my junior year. I thought I can write, but I can do it for advertising,”
Upon graduating and receiving his Bachelor of Arts in journalism and marketing, he moved to Chicago, which he described as the Midwest hub for advertising.
“It had the most amount of agencies outside of New York and Los Angeles,” Tiedgen said.
His first job was media print planner at JTC Advertising in Chicago in 1996. The agency was heavily involved in the auto industry.
“I would get rates and specs from all different newspapers and magazines and try to figure out which one to recommend to which client,” Tiedgen said. “I would work with the account managers and get together my best recommendations.”
He got the opportunity to dabble in print advertising, but he later pivoted to broadcast advertising, where he worked with both local and cable television to buy ad space for clients including Buick regional dealers and Coldwell Banker nationally.
Tiedgen moved on to the media planning division of D’Arcy, MediaVest, where he worked as the media planner for the Southeast region of Burger King. While he was employed there, he had the opportunity to work with account managers, and met with franchisees and Burger King corporate leaders.
“I got to learn because that doesn’t happen often,” Tiedgen said. “Usually, if you are in media (planning), you are in media. So I got to learn the ins and outs of product pricing, new product development, operations, market research, things that you don’t get to (work on) on the media (planning) side.”
After working in Chicago for eight years, Tiedgen relocated to Michigan in 2002, where he had family.
Tiedgen decided to go back to school to earn his MBA in business at Grand Valley State University. While he attended night classes, Tiedgen was employed at Justice & Monroe Advertising in Grand Rapids as the media director.
Justice & Monroe Advertising is the in-house marketing agency for DP Fox Ventures LLC, owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos. The agency focuses on real estate like Mountain Ridge Development, sports teams like the Grand Rapids Griffins and the now-defunct Grand Rapids Rampage, Fox Motors, transportation, fashion and entertainment.
After four years working at Justice & Monroe, Tiedgen decided to leave. He worked briefly for Arbor Mortgage before co-founding LEAD Marketing.
Throughout the past 10 years, Tiedgen has seen his agency grow from two — himself and Sullivan — to 14 employees and become a full-service ad agency.
When Tiedgen is not wearing a suit and tie, he is volunteering his time in the community while spending quality time with his family.
Tiedgen is a volunteer defensive coach for the Forest Hills Youth Football League, which offers flag football and tackle football for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. He said over 800 kids participated last year.
“My son is in it,” Tiedgen said. “It is fun because I get to spend time with him. Football was my favorite sport growing up, and it taught me a lot about business and life in general — battling through adversity and that is what life is all about.”
Tiedgen also serves as the secretary on the FHYFL board, which helps create league rules and recruit kids.
He also is a volunteer coach for the Mary Free Bed YMCA softball team, where his daughter plays, and coaches soccer and baseball at the YMCA.
In addition to being on Hospice of Michigan’s underwriting committee to raise money for its events, Tiedgen also carves out time to visit Hospice of Michigan once every 18 months.
He visits patients, which he said is very draining emotionally because of the relationships he builds with them.
“I will go in and read books,” Tiedgen said. “One gentleman wanted me to watch Tigers games with him and talk baseball. A lady wanted to play checkers and chess every time I would visit. Another lady wanted me to read the Bible, so it’s basically companionship. I am not a licensed nurse or doctor, I cannot give meds; I am just there for companionship.
“It is exhausting and tough when that person finally passes, so I take some time and decompress before visiting again.”
Whether it’s working on marketing content for the West Michigan Whitecaps that will draw more people to the area or coaching teams while teaching kids how to approach life’s difficulties through sports, Tiedgen said he hopes to continue to create a positive influence in his community.